Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Look Back At Our Most Popular Post

The sun is shining and it is warming up outside.  The red creeping thyme peeking from beneath the snow on the patio reminded me of our  all time most popular post.  I seriously doubt if another one will ever catch "Past Thyme To Weed The Patio".  It has more than twice as many hits than any other post and its  numbers continue to climb a little every single day.   This post  above all others  describes Ed's amazing stonework.   It represents  best of Plants and Stones and it deserves a  look back.  It's easy to go back to 2009, just click on the title of the post and you'll be there in a flash.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's So Cold That...

We headed out this morning at 9:00AM and it was cold, too cold!   As I sat bundled up but shivering in the car, the temperature on the dash registered 2 degrees.  As it turned out that was the balmy temperature where the sun was shining directly on the car.  When we headed down the lane the numbers dropped steadily finally reaching - 3.  I shudder to think how low it actually got last night.  Any gardening to be done when it is like this will be inside.  I watered the rosemary and ran my hand over the leaves of the plant to get that lovely fragrance.

I used my kitchen shears to give the lemon grass a haircut.  Running your hands over this plant would be a bad idea.  The leaves have very sharp edges, but they make a nice cup of tea and add  wonderful flavor when cooking.

While we were out we stopped and picked up some insecticidal soap.  Last week it was warm enough that Ed took the lemon verbena plants outside to rid them of white flies.  With this kind of cold any battles with the bugs will have to be fought indoors.  A treatment that kills the patient isn't very helpful!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Early Stone Work

There was a brief period of time today when it was pleasant to be outside.  Clear skies allowed the ever strengthening sunlight to really warm things up.  Ed could not resist the chance to work with his stones.  No frost held these exposed stones to the ground.  The day seemed suited to gathering stones whose shape recommended them for future wall placement.  The chosen stones could have been thrown in a heap or stacked loosely in a temporary storage wall.

This area consists of the poorest land we own.  A short narrow valley with steep sides is formed between the gravel bank hill and the kame that roughly parallels the bedrock ridge.  There are no old plow furrow edges on this land although an adjacent field is still actively farmed.  It must have been cleared for pasture only but Ed can find no logical reason for the placement of the straight line stone pile down the center of the valley.  The stone here is also of poor quality.  Distorted round broken goonies abound.  There is insufficient Irish in his family tree to enable him to build solid walls with such poor stone, but there must be some because Ed just can't toss wall stone in a heap.

The single stack end makes this wall temporary.  Any stone that is placed in a wall so that it can fall will fall.  If these stones are not soon moved to a permanent placement, a fallen end will mark the beginning of a select heap.  The lone roundish stone is headed to the edge of the garden developing down by the road.  Most of our stone is sedimentary in origin but the round one is metamorphic.  It is much denser than our other stones and is filled with small quartz crystals.  Some time exposed to the weather will polish its surface and it will sparkle at the edge of the garden.

The wind shifted, coming from the north and Ed moved inside.  This day was very special since outside work in relative comfort was possible.

Arbutus In January

The recent snow is nearly gone so it was possible to see the transplanted arbutus.  A wire cage protects the arbutus from foraging woodchucks but it certainly detracts from the "wild plants in a natural setting look" that we were trying to create.  The cage is placed to the side every time that we visit here so we get to see these plants in a native appearing setting.  Recent snowfall has consisted of small dry flakes that passed easily through the wire mesh.  We have yet to determine how we will deal with heavy wet snow flakes that would pile up on top of the cage.  The cage may have to be set aside when such snow begins to fall.

Six days ago all of the snow had melted.  With the dreariness of short winter days beginning to color our moods, we needed to see something bright green and growing.  Both the arbutus and its companion moss lifted our spirits.  It is easy to understand the past widespread use of these greens as indoor decorations.  On my next visit, I will have to check to see what odor, if any, these leaves possess.  Picking a single wintergreen leaf to sample both its taste and scent happens occasionally but the arbutus leaf smell will be sampled in place.

Man has certainly had a deleterious impact on native plants.  One could easily believe that the plants would be better of if they were simply left alone.  If you accept that individual death is a natural event, then a hands off approach might be better.  My seedling arbutus might have a different view.  A full sized oak leaf had fallen across the tiny seedling.  I do not understand how the oak leaf passed through the wire cage. It must have blown into the arbutus area while the wire cage was placed to the side.  Later, wind could have moved it to cover the seedling.  Loss of color accompanied by possible leaf damage followed the loss of daylight caused by the covering oak leaf.  Had I not intervened, the seedling may have smothered in the dark.  One purpose of my frequent visits is to remove some of the debris from the plants.  Fallen blueberry leaves and pine needles are allowed to remain close by so that natural decay can nourish the treasured arbutus.  Our need to meddle while trying to create a natural planting is certainly inconsistent but that is the way it is.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Easter Lily Leaves

Eighteen days after this pot was pulled from the ground in the garden, green growth appeared.  If memory stills serves us reliably, five L. longiflorum bulbs were placed in this pot last fall.  A large bulb was positioned in the center with four daughter bulbs surrounding it.  None of the bulbs were touching the pot but the first two to show green grew up against the pot side.  Plants grown for sale usually feature plant growth in the center of the pot.  I wonder just how that is done.

Green leaves are not the only signs of life in the pot.  We stubbornly continue to use our garden soil for our indoor plants in pots.  Bark mulch from a local mill covers the surface of the pot.  Tiny critters scurry across the mulch and also fly about.  One has to wonder if we have inadvertently included some of those summer biters with our early flowers.

A second pot of lily bulbs was pulled from the ground and placed in the basement today.  One more pot of lilies and a single pot of tulips remains outside.  Their move inside will occur in about three weeks when the second pot begins to show green.  This winter has been mild but it still feels good to see green plant growth now with its promise of summer flowers in March or April.

This is another form of indoor gardening that fills part of our winter days.  One end of the basement is home to a scale model depicting a local railroad that is long gone.  The New York and Ontario branch line to Edmeston ran very near us on the opposite side of the river.  Trees in the newly green area grew  in the garden as Autumn Joy sedums.  White glue holds the ground foam foliage in place.  Soon the weather will allow comfortable outdoor work and this job site will go quiet.

Planting the trees was easier done with the bridge out of the way.  The builder might be happier now that a picture is included that shows his bridge.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Back to White

The plants have been happy under the snow.   This is a nice clump of cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis.  We let as much of this red beauty grow here as we can.  The hummingbirds love it and so do we.

The Great Lobelia looks healthy too.  Some of these plants will have blue flowers and some will be white.

This foxglove growing at the base of one of Ed's walls should flower  this year .  It is something else to look for in the spring.

Today  the snow is back.  Once again everything is covered with white.  I went outside to take this.  Ed is working on clearing the paths and the driveway.

This picture shows the view out the front door of the house.  Fresh new snow covers the garden with white.  Not even the animals have made footprints yet.  I still enjoy the quiet beauty of a new pristine blanket of snow on the garden.

Monday, January 14, 2013

January Thaw

The lovely blanket of snow that covered the garden has slowly been shrinking because of warming temperatures up into the fifties.  Still, yesterday quite a bit of snow remained in the garden.

Warm temperatures and overnight rain caused most of the snow to vanish .

The snow left the stone paths and walls first.  Only a few plants were peeking out of the snow that remained on the planting beds.  This is how the inside of the stone square looked yesterday.

Today only a few traces of snow remain. It's a perfect opportunity to walk in the garden and see what has been going on with the plants under the snow.

This is one of the long stone paths in the vegetable garden.  Here again the snow left the stone paths first.

Most of the snow here vanished overnight as well.  The snow in the distance remains because with the north facing hill at the end of the garden that area is not in contact with direct sunlight.  A January thaw is quite common here.  It can be a very useful.   It clears the roads and driveways making travel easier.  It gets rid of the ugly dirty snow.  It gives the the river a chance to get rid of some of the runoff to lessen springtime flooding.  But it also leaves my plants uncovered subject to frost heave  and melts the kid's snow men.  Perhaps if we are lucky, this will be a quick thaw and my nice blanket of snow will return soon.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Matching Job To Day

We always have more tasks that need attention than we can possibly do in a day.  One technique used to manage that chaos is to always take advantage of the weather conditions so that our work is made easier and more productive.  Our lemon verbenas needed attention to help them cope with the rigors of indoor life.  Bright sunshine combined with south winds to raise the air temperature into the 40's F.  The verbenas needed a shower bath so they were carried outside.  Several applications from the watering can moistened both the tops and the bottoms of the leaves.  There was some concern about the wisdom of wetting foliage right next to deep snow but the bright sun was encouraging.  The plants were left outside in the light winds to dry somewhat before their return to the basement.  A  quick check this morning found the verbenas looking great sporting clear bright leaves.  Both the wind and the water had dislodged at least some of the white flies.  For now the plants are inside near their basement windows.  We will watch the outdoor conditions looking for another day when a cold shower is possible.  If necessary we will enlist the help of some purchased insecticidal soap.   I did a little reading and found the calcium and magnesium present in our water renders our homemade spray ineffective.  For today we were able to do some gardening outside.  Not bad for the middle of winter.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter Weeding

Normal winter weather held for the first week of the new year.  Frost coated everything this morning as a crescent moon rested on the horizon at wake up time.  White flies and weeds are taking hold on the plants being over wintered in the basement.  Today the weeds were pulled.  Tomorrow the pots will be carried upstairs for a shower and an insecticidal soap treatment.  Any gardening activity is a treat this time of year.

This pot of lemon verbena displays a good growth of both weeds and white flies.  Most years the white flies win and we are left with pots of dead sticks come spring.  Last winter we managed to successfully carry three pots of lemon verbena through till spring.  The pictured plants are from cuttings that were taken late last winter.  Our plan is to try this again.  Overwintered plants grow to giants during their second year.  Only first year plants are small enough to pot up for an indoor winter.

This rosemary is also a first year cutting.  The parent plant was well on its way to a certain demise when the cuttings were taken.  The new plant looks healthy although its companion chickweed remains small.  These plants are on the landing of the stairs from the basement.  The mostly glass door provides a generous amount of sunlight.  Two floor level radiators supply the heat while the open stairway generates air currents.  This combination of light, heat and moving air makes this area the best location we have to keep these outdoor plants alive during winter.

The first phase of the job is done.  Weeds are gone and I have soil under my fingernails.  The plants have been turned to force new growth on the sunny side of the plant.  This brush with the promise of spring has me wondering how soon seeds can be put to soil under indoor light.  The urge to garden seems to be stirring.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Easter In 90 Days

We try to start each new year with a gardening activity.  Forcing Easter Lily bulbs worked great for us last year so restarting that activity today seemed to satisfy several needs.  A quick look at a calender revealed that Easter falls on the last day of March this year.  Professional lily growers likely knew that and are following a schedule that will fill the big box stores and supermarkets with these treasures in time for Easter.  We follow a more relaxed pace here so our flowers may be late for the holiday but early for outdoor gardening.  In an attempt to learn, the pull from the ground date is recorded here.  We will count the days to first flower and try to get it right next year.

L. longiflorun is native to southern Japan with a hardiness zone of 7.  Low temperatures there range from 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit but frozen ground may not be an annual event.  This morning found our ground near the house foundation still soft and unfrozen.  Bulbs do need a cold period before warmth triggers growth.  We do not know if our unusually warm fall has provided an adequate chill for the bulbs pulled today.  Three more pots remain in the ground.  They will be pulled later following an as yet undefined schedule.  The pros have kept their planting stock under mechanical refrigeration and know the exact amount of chill needed to insure growth.

Our attempts to grow these tender lilies in the garden have revealed certain growth changes in response to our zone 4 cold.  Most obvious is the squat appearance of plants left outside. Full sized single flowers atop six inches of stem look comical.  Warmer temperatures seem necessary for full sized leaves and stems.  Our cold seems to encourage the formation of many new small bulbs.  We cannot begin to manage the huge number of usable bulbs produced each year.

The pot pulled today was placed on the basement floor near an outside wall.  If growth appears, the lily will be moved to the relative warmth of our bedroom and placed near a south facing window.  Our 2013 garden is underway and we will work toward flowering plants and try to learn the cause of less than complete success.